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Santos Rosas remembers it clearly.

In 1969, a year after graduating from Righetti High School, Rosas, then a 19-year-old Guadalupe native, was drafted into the U.S. Army to fight in the Vietnam War. In his fifth month of active duty, Rosas was wounded by enemy gunfire.

"It's hard to believe what I had gone through," the infantryman said. "I used to see it on TV, but to have to participate in it was a tremendous hardship -- not just for myself but for my parents."

He spent several months recuperating and returned to active duty, finishing his tour before returning to the Santa Maria Valley in 1970.

On Thursday, Rosas was one of more than 20 veterans honored at Sanchez Elementary School's annual Veterans Day celebration.

"One of our traditions at David Sanchez Elementary School is to celebrate Veterans Day by honoring our veterans by performing for them and learning from their wisdom," said Kathleen Lester, Sanchez Elementary School principal.

As Rosas and other veterans looked on, students honored their service with songs and performances. After spending the last month preparing for the performance, band teacher Anthony Yi led his beginning band class through a rendition of Samuel A. Ward's "America the Beautiful."

"I wanted my band students to get a chance to perform for not just their parents but also the community," Yi said. "I'm very proud and impressed with my students for being ready to get up there and perform in front of this huge crowd."

Lester credits the school's large migrant population and immigrant background with influencing their Veterans Day celebration and contributing to its success.

"This school has a very high proportion of recent immigrant families or families with an immigrant history [and] a lot of them have family members who have served in the military," she said. According to Lester, both teachers and parents feel it is important for students for students to learn "love of country ... honoring our leaders and the people we respect."

"One of the values of Hispanic families is respect for elders and honoring the people who came before us," she said. "This is a really important part of what we do here."

In addition to honoring veterans and showing respect, Lester touts the event as a way to learn the vocabulary and concepts of patriotism through stories and shared experiences.

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"We explain the meaning of the songs, flags and symbols, so that their respect is genuine," she said. "Having an opportunity for our school to make its feelings and patriotism known to the wider community, and to have our kids talk to different people and learn from them, is a really nice thing to watch."

At Valley Christian Academy, students traded microphones for pens and paper to write letters to active-duty service members and veterans throughout the region.

"This is the first time we've done something locally," said Charles Mason, Valley Christian Academy principal. "We thought it could be a variation on similar things and give the kids an opportunity to be able to be an encouragement to active-duty service members and local veterans."

Inside Tiffany Brown's fifth-grade classroom, Faith Kim, having already completed one letter to veterans, started work on a second.

"Since my dad is in the military, I know how hard it is and how hard they work for us," she said. "I want to thank them for all they've done."

Like many of the students, Mason hopes the cards and letters will demonstrate to area veterans that the community has not forgotten their contributions.

"It's very sobering to think about all they've experienced and done to secure our freedoms," he said. "Writing cards is just a little something they can do to show that they appreciate it."

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga


Education Reporter

Santa Maria Times reporter Mathew Burciaga covers education for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.